Like most writers, I've had my fair share of "de-sucessings", "thanks but no thanks" and "If you continue to send your work to us we will release the hounds" letters. Part of 'getting your work out there' is that often it gets bounced back to you, but it makes it all the more satisfying when a reader/editor/intern actually "gets" your work.
To paraphrase one of my favourite rejection letters – they're opinions are learned but also subjective. Your work can fall on their desk at exactly the wrong time, be in the middle of a lump of stories on the exact same subject or just be the piece that’s read before an editor has a cup of coffee. Don’t take it personally because there are a thousand decisions between your submission and publication. Some writers develop such strong relationships with their work that a rejection letter hurts like getting dumped.
So like a good break-up, a good rejection letter is clear and concise but respectful. The worst rejection letter I got back in the days of snail mail was a slip of paper that was one line - "Thanks, but we have no use for your work at this time". It had been torn using a ruler. They’d been too cheap to blow a whole piece of A4 paper and had just torn off several strips probably with the same handwritten line. It was as flattering as being dumped by a text.
Conciseness is key. A friend of mine received a bulk email that apologised for the bulk email then rambled on about how incredibly busy the editors had been and had only just gotten around to getting back to people before finally getting to the point. My friend summarised it as: "Well then, faceless hordes, you're rejected!"
No-one's expecting a personal reply. But personalising the process a little can help the egos of writers. At Cardigan Press when we sent out rejection letters we had a not-quite list who we gave some general feedback with a few common reasons why we didn’t get selected. Telling people how many submissions you got can be a good way to put things in perspective. At Cardigan we once got an email back saying it was the nicest rejection letter someone had ever received.
For writers, any feedback should be good news. If an editor gives any feedback writers should gobble it up greedily and use it to improve the piece. Editors are busy folk with very little time so if they invest a second giving you feedback then it’s because they gave a good goddamn for your piece and want to develop you as a writer. Take an feedback as a compliment.
But if you're still smarting from a rejection letter try the counter rejection. It's a cathartic experience and even if you never send it writing a rejection letter to the publication that rejected you lets you both move on. Here’s a template:
Dear Sir/Madam (I'm far too busy and important to take in your name)
Thanks for your rejection letter. Unfortunately at this time I'm unable to accept your rejection letter.
I receive several rejection letters regularly and whilst yours rejection letter was of a particularly high standard I'm limited by the number of rejection letters I can receive. So while I encourage you to continue sending rejection letters, I won't be able to accept yours at the present time.
Instead I'll be going around inserting my piece into your publication at various retailers using a specially purchased industrial glue. I'll also be visiting the homes of leading reviewers to interrupt their reading of your title by megaphoning in their ears "We was robbed".
Please be assured that I won't stop short of legal action or violence against your pets as deemed appropriate by myself and the other judges of rejection letters (who are also sought by authorities in connection with several unresolved crime novels).
Thanks for your time,